Workers in Nigeria will today join their counterparts all over the world to mark this year’s Workers’ Day celebration. Workers’ Day or May Day is celebrated annually to draw attention to issues affecting workers across the world. Unlike last year when the May Day was marked worldwide without the usual rallies due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration for this year’s Workers’ Day in Nigeria will be low-keyed as only a few workers will be at the rallies in observance of the prescribed COVID-19 protocols.
However, different chapters of the workers’ union across the country will engage in some lectures and talks to mark the event. For workers in Nigeria, this May Day will be used as an occasion by labour leaders to draw government’s attention to the plight of Nigerian workers amidst rising inflation and soaring food prices. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the earnings of over 70 per cent of Nigerian workers. Many of them have lost their jobs because of the pandemic while some have had their wages slashed.
According to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) as at the fourth quarter of 2020, only 46.4million Nigerians were in employment out of the 122.04 million economically active people aged 15-64 years. Also, only 30 million Nigerians were reported to be in full-time employment, while 15.9 million were under-employed. According to NBS selected banking sector data for fourth quarter of 2020, the Deposit Money Banks in Nigeria sacked about 8,584 workers in 2020 due to the impact of the COVOD-19 pandemic.
Those affected include 2,306 junior staff and 799 senior staff. If other sectors were included, the figures would likely to be very high. Currently, Nigeria’s unemployment rate is 33.3 per cent, headline inflation, 18.17 per cent and food inflation, 23 per cent. The worsening insecurity across the country, especially the conflict between farmers and herders in the food belt of the country has contributed to the increase in the prices of food items and other consumables.
With the dwindling revenue from crude oil and poor internally generated revenue from most states and poor tax base, it has become increasingly difficult for many states to pay the new minimum wage of N30,000 which cannot even meet the monthly needs of the workers. However, with prudent management of resources at their disposal, we believe that every state in the country can pay the minimum wage effortlessly. Therefore, we urge them to drastically cut down the cost of governance, especially their security votes.
As Nigerian workers celebrate the May Day today, we urge the federal and state governments to do something urgently to address the plights of Nigerian workers, especially on the issue of the new minimum wage. It is sad that only a few states can conveniently pay the new minimum wage. From last year’s May Day till today, the fortunes of Nigerian workers are dwindling steadily. The hike in fuel price and electricity bill has increased the workers’ woes.
This is the time the government should make the work environment conducive for them by paying them a living wage, a wage that can really take them home. At present, the nation’s judicial workers are on strike over the issue of autonomy for the judiciary. For the most part of last year, university teachers, under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), were on strike. In fact, the work environment in Nigeria has witnessed more strikes in recent times than ever before.
We call on the Federal Government to use this year’s May Day to address the rising unemployment in the country by coming up with plans to create more jobs. The government can hasten its promise to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty by creating more jobs in the agricultural sector, which has the capacity to employ many people.
The government should stop the over-dependence on crude oil and diversify the economy through agriculture as well as the full exploitation of the solid mineral sector. The government should also tackle head-on the rising insecurity across the country and stem the herders/farmers conflicts. We wish Nigerian workers and others a happy Workers’ Day celebration.